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Be A 7, Be Perceived as a 3

At a job interview, I was once asked how collaborative a leader I was with 1 being totally collaborative and 10 being totally autocratic. I answered I want to be perceived as a 3 but am a 7. While I did not get that job, I still think my answer has a grain of wisdom.

Two attributes that teams look for in a leader are in tension. Teams want a leader who has ideas on how to move the group forward and they want a leader who incorporates their views about where to go. The question is how to best resolve that tension.

Despite the clamor for total collaboration, no team wants a leader that is so collaborative she never makes a decision. Such a leader is, as the saying goes, “paralyised by analysis.” Further, as a practical matter, such an approach gives every team member total veto power--if even one person is not on board the decision is delayed. Such an approach favors the status quo. In a rapidly changing world, such an approach is dangerous.

Equally, no team wants a leader that ignores their input and expertise. They want to feel valued and they want their opinions to carry weight. An autocratic leader, one who makes decisions based on her own perspectives alone, will lose the loyalty of her team and will often make bad choices, as they are ill informed.

It may seem logical that if neither an autocratic or a collaborative leader is effective, a leader should aim to be a five on the “autocratic” scale. While being a five can lead to good results and a relatively happy team, I think being perceived as a 3 while being a 7 gets better results.

A great leader needs to have a direction in mind--informed by the institution’s mission--when asking her team to help her make big decisions. The leader should not come in “tabla rasa” but should have given deep thought to an issue and have an idea of a good approach. Hence coming in with some idea of where the team should go makes you a 7.

However, team members will feel undervalued if they think their leader has “almost” made up her mind. They want to be heard before decisions are made. By giving the team the opportunity to be heard and by actively listening to the team’s input, the leader is perceived as a 3.

Next time you and your team need to make an important decision, be a 7 and be perceived as a 3.


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